Part of this year’s GFEST lineup, The Surface has been attracting considerable attention on the LGBT film circuit. The second feature of director Michael J. Saul, who has been winning awards with his shorts, it comes six years after his debut film Crush.
Trophy boyfriend Evan (Harry Hains) lives a boring, yet comfortable existence with his wealthy boyfriend Chris (Nicholas McDonald). Evan, a product of the foster system, only seems to be complete while swimming in the local pool. That is, until he buys an 8mm camera from an old man at a yard sale and discovers the joys of filmmaking. After spending time exploring his art, he goes back to get the editing machine, finds out the old man died, and meets his son, Peter (Michael Redford Carney). Their relationship progresses while Chris and Evan grow further, ending, obviously, with Evan moving from wealthy boyfriend no 1 to way older home-with-swimming-pool-owner boyfriend no 2. Somehow, this is all about family, and belonging, and also about the enchantment of home movies, particularly when portraying people you have no idea who they are.
Fans of Linklater’s Boyhood will probably recognize a few tropes, including the somehow uninteresting protagonist that doesn’t do much. Indeed, hardly anything happens during the first 10 minutes. We soon spot this is a story about a disenchanted housewife, only instead of a married woman reaching her 40s we have a teenage boy, somehow old enough to drink but not old enough to be done with school. The swimming scenes are beautiful, but add little to Evan’s character. In fact, plot wise, The Surface is more like a moody appointment than a narrative, and lacks the charisma and acting power of Boyhood.
Visually the film, shot by the director himself, has a slightly faded colourful palette, and a few sequences that seem to have been filmed on a GoPro. Unfortunately both the edit (also by the director) and sound design are a mess. The audio levels are all over the place, with audible cuts and botched ADR, and the edit, after going for a somewhat classical approach through the first 50 minutes of the 79 minute runtime, decides suddenly to go all Dogma because f*ck continuity, that’s why. Both fights between Evan and Chris are done this way, and it is unclear if this was an actual artistic choice or (more likely) a strategy to disguise directing and acting flaws.
In sum, all surface and no substance, with hints of sensuality that are easily forgotten after loads of overindulgent super 8 filters, The Surface did have some potential, but it clearly drowned.
The Surface will screen on 17th November at GayWise Festival – for more information and full programme, please check http://www.gaywisefestival.org.uk/